Minneapolis Mayor: George Floyd Square will reopen to traffic after Derek Chauvin trial

    A new raised fist sculpture stands at George Floyd Square Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Photo by Nicole Neri/ Minnesota Reformer.

    Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the area around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where George Floyd was killed by police in May will reopen to vehicle traffic after the March murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

    The area dubbed George Floyd Square operates as an autonomous zone, run by activists with a group called Meet on the Street and has largely been avoided by police officers since Floyd’s death.

    The lack of auto and bus traffic is an imposition for some people in the neighborhood. Although activists have created a vibrant community in the area, they’ve also formed an alliance with the Bloods gang. That’s put strain on the neighborhood, with many residents demanding the city take back control of the intersection.

    “The barricades that were originally placed at the intersection to protect both people as well as the public art are now in many senses used as a screen for illicit activity and have re-traumatized a neighborhood that has already experienced far too much over the last year,” Frey said during a Friday news conference.

    Frey said the area will remain a memorial to George Floyd’s life and a “center for racial healing and justice.” He added: “It is not and cannot be an autonomous zone.” He said the area would be reopened to “robust city services” including emergency responders and regular traffic following Chauvin’s trial.

    Frey was joined by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and City Council Members Alondra Cano and Andrea Jenkins, whose wards meet at the intersection.

    Reopening the intersection has been a politically fraught conflict at City Hall for months, recently spilling into the public through a series of competing press releases. Frey, Cano and Jenkins wanted the entire City Council to sign onto a public letter announcing the city’s intent to reopen the area. Several members of the council declined, saying such a request should go through the proper legislative process.

    A news release about the Friday announcement heralded a “united plan” for next steps for the intersection, although Cano and Jenkins were the only council members there.

    Activists have said they won’t cede the area until a list of demands are met, including the resignation of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and a 10-year, $156 million economic package for the neighborhood to fund job training, a racial justice center and affordable housing, among other programs.

    Reached for comment on the city’s announcement, Meet on the Street organizer Marcia Howard said they will hold the space until their demands are met.

    “Nothing substantive has changed on either side,” Howard said. “No justice. No streets.”

    During the news conference, city leaders outlined their plans to work toward racial justice without mentioning the list of specific demands from activists. The city promises investments in youth job training, a permanent memorial to Floyd and committing $10.5 million in city funding for the area.

    “We’ve heard directly from the fiancé of George Floyd, that she felt very strongly about never again having tires run over that sacred space where George Floyd was killed,” Frey said. “And we agree. We want to make sure that that space is protected.”

    The city drafted two proposals in October for reconnecting the intersection, where a large sculpture of a raised fist has been erected. One plan would leave the sculpture in the middle of the intersection and convert the previously main thoroughfare of Chicago Avenue into one-way traffic. The other would move the sculpture to the corner of the intersection to allow for two-way traffic.

    Frey said the city will send out surveys to the neighborhood to find out which plan is more popular.

    The city previously conducted a survey in October, which found two-thirds of respondents supported reopening the intersection “in some way.”

    Max Nesterak
    Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.